NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 5, 2009

How sour is the public mood?  An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that about half the people believe 2008 was one of the worst years in American history.  At times, Abraham Lincoln's lament has seemed apt, "We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read."

But even a steep recession doesn't compare with events that have made for America's worse years, says Rich Lowry.  For example:

  • 1837: In a real-estate bubble, people borrowed money to speculate in Western land. Land sales backed by the federal government were $2.5 million in 1832 and $25 million in 1836. President Andrew Jackson, determined to prick the bubble, accepted only gold or silver as payment and succeeded all too well. Banks failed, Wall Street crashed and 90 percent of the country's factories closed.
  • 1862: Any year of the Civil War qualifies as the country's worst, but in June 1862, the Union lost more than 12,000 men, England seemed close to recognizing the Confederacy, and state and congressional elections went poorly for Lincoln's Republicans.
  • 1940: Unemployment was at 14.6 percent (down from 19 percent in 1938). While Hitler marched into the Netherlands, Belgium and France, the American army had fewer soldiers than Yugoslavia, and troops often had to train using broomsticks. Western democracy seemed on the verge of collapse.
  • 1968: Assassinations, urban riots, a losing war in Vietnam -- it was the year of the great American nervous break-down.

Of course, the country persevered.  The economy recovered from the depression of 1837, we rearmed and defeated the Axis, as the economy shook free of the Great Depression for good, and in the 1980s the country entered a long period of prosperity and defeated the Soviet Union.

Source:  Rich Lowry, "There Have Been Worse Years," Washington Times, January 1, 2009.

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